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HERE COMES THE Foreign LEGION

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Can local coaches continue their domination of the MTN8?

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THIS year’s edition of the MTN 8 is shaping up to be all about the battle between local and foreign coaches. In fact it is already practically guaranteed that we will have two foreign and two local coaches in the semi-finals.

The foreigners are pitted against each other in one end of the draw while the locals will also battle it out in the quarter-finals, and thus far, as far as this competition is concerned, the SA coaches have been dominant in the past three seasons.

Last season, Eric Tinkler guided SuperSport United to glory as he downed Cape Town City at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. Then in 2016/17 Gavin Hunt swept past Mamelodi Sundowns 3-0 in the final of the competition at Mbombela Stadium in Mpumalanga.

The 2015/16 season saw the former Bafana Bafana players, Roger de Sa and Steve Komphela face off, with De Sa in the end reigning supreme at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

Here’s an interesting fact: the incumbent Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter is the last foreign manager to lift the MTN 8 trophy after his Chiefs side defeated Orlando Pirates 1-0 at Moses Mabhida in 2014/15.

The line-up is impressive this season; Pitso Mosimane, Clinton Larsen, Micho Sredojevic, Kaitano Tembo, Giovanni Solinas, Luc Eymael, Fadlu Davids and Benni McCarthy will all strive to guide their respective sides to the R8 million prize-money on offer.

In the first battle of the locals, Mosimane will welcome compatriot Larsen to Lucas Moripe Stadium on Saturday when Sundowns lock horns with Golden Arrows at 3pm. Neither coach has laid their hands on the MTN 8 crown since the telecommunications company started sponsoring the competition a decade ago.

Mosimane has some pedigree though; he has lifted all the important cups during his tenure with Sundowns The former Bafana Bafana coach joined Sundowns in 2012, and has amassed a staggering seven trophies during in his spell with the club. He boasts three League triumphs, a Nedbank Cup title, a Telkom Knockout crown, the Caf Super Cup and the Caf Champions League. But there’s one missing that he’s dying to get his hands on – the MTN 8.

Technically Mosimane won the Top 8 competition in 2004 when he was at SuperSport United – it was still called SAA Super 8 at that time. Mosimane’s charges dethroned Kaizer Chiefs in the final to be crowned the SAA Super 8 champions.

Sundowns need to sharpen their game after they played out to a 1-1 stalemate against Amakhosi this past weekend in their first Absa Premiership match of the season. Masandawana will be looking to dump Arrows in this, their first hurdle of their MTN 8 campaign.

There’s no doubt that they will be well aware it won’t be easy. Larsen has humbled Mosimane before. It was him who handed the league title to Chiefs at the expense of Sundowns when he was at Celtic in 2012/13. Celtic hammered Sundowns 5-0 and Chiefs went on to be crowned the Absa Premiership champions.

Larsen also knocked Sundowns out of the MTN 8 in 2015 when Celtic outshone the reigning league champions in the quarter-finals of the competition.

In 2016/17, Arrows beat the odds again when they emerged victorious against Sundowns away in the last 16 of the Nedbank Cup thanks to a moment of brilliance from Nduduzo Sibiya.

Obviously Larsen and his troops will draw on all these good memories when they visit Sundowns on Saturday.

The next match that kicks off at 6pm will see the battle of the foreigners. Amakhosi will battle it out with Free State Stars in the repeat of last season’s Nedbank Cup semi-finals. Solinas will be up against his former side as he tries to help Chiefs end their barren run.

Solinas is under pressure to deliver as soon as possible, But Free State Stars’ Luc Eymael will have his own plans when these sides meet on Saturday.

This is the same man who brought misery to Naturena last season as he thrashed Chiefs 2-0 at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, in the game that saw the end of Komphela’s tenure at Chiefs.

Orlando Pirates and the defending champions, SuperSport United will round off the action at 8.30pm at Orlando Stadium in Soweto in the third quarter-final.

Micho Sredojevic is still searching for his maiden triumph with the Buccaneers, and is facing a mammoth task of dethroning the holders. Pirates will fancy themselves at home though, despite the club going through a four-year trophy drought.

The result in this encounter won’t be elementary as SuperSport have enjoyed a good cup history against Pirates, getting the better of them in the Nedbank Cup in 2016 and 2017. Tembo, who was an assistant coach when United downed Pirates in back-to-back Nedbank Cup finals, will be hoping to achieve an identical result when the teams meet on Saturday night.

Sunday will see Maritzburg United welcome Cape Town City to Harry Gwala Stadium in Pietermaritzburg at 3pm.

Fadlu Davids and Benni McCarthy are still novices, with the duo searching for their maiden titles. Both coaches reached finals in their debut season but fell short in their pursuit of titles.

McCarthy was beaten by Tinkler in the final of the MTN 8 last year while Davids succumbed to Eymael in the Nedbank Cup.

So will the dominance of local coaches continue or will the ‘foreign legion’ of Solinas, Tembo, Eymael and Sredojevic reign supreme?

This weekend the answers will begin to unfold.